Will this be Greg Ballard’s Last Term?

December 13th, 2011 at 1:37 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

Here is the column I wrote for the Indianapolis Business Journal Forefront section this week:

Greg Ballard will take the oath for his second term as Mayor of Indianapolis on January 1.  Will it be his last?  After all, there is no term limit.  (Remember Hudnut Forever?)

There’s a lot of speculation that Ballard won’t endure another campaign.  Of course, it’s far too early for Ballard to address it.  No smart politician would let it be known he’s a lame duck in advance of the inauguration.  And yes, I did call him a smart politician.  One of the lessons of the campaign of 2011 is that Ballard’s use of the phrase “Politics really isn’t my thing” was a smart political move.  He first used it in a TV ad that was the best of the year.  In it, Ballard appeared on camera.  He was warm, human and, most of all, likeable.

I won’t go so far as to call Ballard a good candidate, however.  He was stiff, programmed and waited until all the ballots were counted before he displayed Hudnut-like enthusiasm in his acceptance speech.  Where was that all fall?  But I can no longer call him what I first called him on Election night in 2007, the Accidental Mayor.  He won this race fair and square.

Ballard proved that a Republican can still win in Marion County, even in a municipal election.  That’s despite the fact that, according the WISH-TV/Franklin College poll issued in the week prior to the election; Democrats have a 9 percentage point advantage among self-identified voters.  Democratic Party leaders knew Melina Kennedy was behind at the end of the race, but thought they could overcome the Ballard lead with a strong partisan turnout.  They were wrong.

For the reasons why, I would refer you back to our poll.  It showed that Ballard had an approval rating of 62%.  55% of the voters felt that Indianapolis is on the right track.  Finally, he had a favorability rating of 65%, even higher than Mitch Daniels, who was at 64%.  In other words, he was likeable.

State Democratic Chairman Dan Parker’s pet theory on 2011 is that likeability was the most important factor in Indiana elections, not party labels.  I would argue that the most likeable candidate for mayor won in Fort Wayne, Anderson, Muncie, Terre Haute, and Evansville, as well as Indianapolis.

It was Melina Kennedy and the Democrats’ job to paint a different picture.  In the effort to make Greg Ballard unlikeable, however, they went over the top suggesting that his administration engaged in practices that are unethical and possibly criminal in dealings with city contractors, and that Ballard was racist.  They thought they had a game changer when Ballard referred to unemployed African Americans as a “difficult population.”  Most voters felt that Ballard was a clumsy speaker with a good heart.

The WISH-TV/Franklin College poll indicated that 13% of Democrats planned to vote for Ballard while just 3% of Republicans planned to cross over for Kennedy.  That explains how the Democrats won the at-large council seats and control of the Council and still lost the race for mayor.

Kennedy appeared overly programmed, too.  I’ll always remember when I greeted her at the WISH-TV door at 6 a.m. 6 days before the election.  She came to react to our poll in a live interview and was struggling with fatigue and a cold.  While the interview contained predictable response, she greeted me by saying “You and your damn poll!”   It was an honest reaction that voters might accept.

Look for the Democrats to field a stronger candidate in 2015 (though it may be hard to top Kennedy’s fundraising ability.)   They still believe that voters will give them a death grip on power in this county for the long term if they can just get the mayor’s office back.

The good news for Greg Ballard is that he made very few campaign promises.  His campaign was built around a promise to deliver more of the same kind of leadership that made him the most likeable candidate in the 2011 race.

2015 can wait awhile.

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